Risk Reporter for Educational Facilities
Spring 2013 Vol. 1, Issue 1
Armed security in schools has gained a lot of attention in the past few months. According to data analysis by USA Today, at present, 70 percent of public schools do not have a police officer on-site, nearly 60 percent do not have security staff and schools with a police presence are typically large and urban. As more public and private schools investigate the use of armed security, there are a number of issues to consider.
Risk Reporter spoke with Bill DeWeese, academy commander and program coordinator for the National Ranger Training Institute in Nelsonville, Ohio, and former deputy sheriff and police officer, to learn more. The institute is one of 11 agencies across the country that provides law enforcement training for seasonal rangers in national parks.
Risk Reporter: If a school opts to use armed security, what credentials should that person have?
Bill DeWeese: Ideally, they should be a trained, professional law enforcement officer. An officer will have 400 to 800 hours at the academy, field experience with a mentor and annual refresher training. They will also be thoroughly screened — the average police officer has had a background investigation, a polygraph, medical tests, psychological screening and drug testing. An officer can be an active resource for the school. They’ll be able to tap into local resources and make referrals to the juvenile courts and social service agencies. Plus, if there is an incident, they’ll have the powers of arrest and the skills to conduct an investigation.
Risk Reporter: You spoke about the fact that officers learn to be situationally aware.
Bill DeWeese: Officers are trained to pick up on preincident indicators — things that don’t fit the norm and are potentially indicative of a problem. If someone’s been at a school for a while, they have a feel for what’s typical and are on the lookout for a break in patterns.
Risk Reporter: Tell us more about weapons training.
Bill DeWeese: Shooting is a skill — a volatile skill that needs to be practiced regularly. When it comes down to an actual confrontation, 90 percent of what happens is mental. Law officers are trained to think quickly and act decisively. If they’re attacked, they’re aware of other people and strive to protect innocent bystanders.
Risk Reporter: When considering armed security, how extensive should your team be?
Bill DeWeese: It’s a balancing act. Every officer wants the support of another one if there’s an incident, but you don’t want people with nothing to do. Each school should evaluate the role the officer plays — whether they’ll also help with developing programs, community outreach, etc. — and determine what makes sense.
Risk Reporter: Any thoughts about the risks of having guns on school grounds?
Bill DeWeese: The risk of a campus being attacked is statistically very rare, plus, you can’t assume that having an armed officer on-site guarantees that bad things won’t happen. But an armed officer is like a fire extinguisher — better to have it and not need it than vice versa. Regardless, your decision of whether to have armed security at school should be reinforced by well-crafted policies and procedures and reviewed by your legal counsel.